An ambitious 72-unit addition to the 84-unit Orchard Square apartment complex in Middletown Township cleared a big hurdle Wednesday night when the township zoning hearing board approved 12 variances needed for the project at 1801 Old Lincoln Highway, near Neshaminy High School.
The motion introduced by ZHB Vice-Chairman Kevin Strouse and approved 4-1 after a three-hour hearing is conditioned on the developer, the Jenkintown-based Scully Company, installing year-round buffers between the complex and neighboring Fairhill and Granite roads, and also on the company disturbing tree zones in as minimal a way as possible as determined by township professionals.
Strouse, board Chairman Ernie Peacock and members William Cosen and Michael McGuffin all voted in favor of the variances. Doug Downing, an alternate on the ZHB sitting in for the absent James McCafferty, was the lone no vote.
If the township Board of Supervisors grants land development approval for the project sometime in the next few months, the additional units will be constructed in an open area of the same 13-acre parcel where the existing apartments – constructed around 1974 – now sit. The project will consist of five two-story buildings with a 4,851 square-foot clubhouse and swimming pool for the use of tenants attached to one of the structures. Four of the buildings will have 16 units each and one will have eight.
The new part of the complex would have 36 one-bedroom apartments, 28 two-bedroom units and eight three bedroom units. That would leave the overall makeup of the complex, including both the new and existing parts, at 76 one-bedroom apartments, 72 two-bedroom and eight three-bedroom.
Scully Company President Jessica Scully said after the meeting she wasn’t sure yet but estimated monthly rents on the new apartments would start at $2,000. Rents on the existing apartments start at $1,600 a month.
Matthew McHugh, the attorney representing Scully Company on the project, explained that many of the variances needed by the developer resulted from it working with township officials and neighbors to make the project as amenable as possible for them. As an example, McHugh said Scully Company had originally proposed three buildings of three stories, but reduced the height and added more buildings based on feedback from the township and nearby residents.
The change resulted in Scully needing a variance allowing 38.1 feet between buildings instead of the normal minimum of 50 feet. Among the several other variances that were granted Wednesday night were ones allowing a less than 75-foot buffer along all property lines and one allowing 303 off-street parking spaces, where 312 would normally be required.
McHugh explained that the existing part of Orchard Square was built before the Apartment Office zoning district where it now sits was instituted. That makes the facility an existing nonconformity and the developer’s efforts in planning the addition have been aimed at “improving the existing nonconformity,” McHugh said.
He continued that in trying to comply with as many aspects of AO zoning as possible, Scully Company had to take the entire apartment complex into account and not just the proposed additions. When asked by some zoning board members whether the developer would be willing to reduce the number of proposed new units, McHugh responded that Scully Company is complying with all AO density requirements.
An Orchard Square second phase of as many as 120 new units was part of the plan from the beginning and the spot where the proposed 72 new apartments will go was never intended to be left as open space, the attorney noted.
“We want to do this in a community friendly way,” McHugh said.
After three witnesses – engineer John Alejnikov, architect Ben Wright and Jessica Scully – testified Wednesday night on behalf of the developer, several nearby residents took the microphone during public comment to express concerns about added traffic, drainage, parking and other issues.
“We can’t get out onto (Old Lincoln Highway) now, and you’re going to bring all these other people in,” said Alan Fein. “The area is too small to do what they want to do. It’s too much.”
Another resident, Paul Osterhoudt, said he feared that drainage problems near his property would get worse as the result of the new buildings.
“I don’t want to fight progress, but we have to be smart about it,” he said.
McHugh said Scully Company will prepare a detailed stormwater management plan, traffic study and other documents as part of the land development process. Township Building and Zoning Director Jim Ennis added that issues like drainage and traffic will be extensively addressed during that process.